There’s nothing quite like a good disaster movie. From Independence Day to Twister to 2012, it’s usually a smart box office bet to destroy half the planet onscreen. So in Don’t Look Up, writer/director extraordinaire Adam McKay’s latest opus, it stands to reason that much of the excitement has to do with seeing an all-star cast traverse a cataclysmic event. It promises to be an edge of your seat, turn your brain off thrill-ride!
Oh wait, I think I’m getting my movies confused! I’m thinking of the hilariously titled Moonfall, the upcoming film where disaster movie kingpin Roland Emmerich threatens to drop the moon on our heads. But, no, Don’t Look Up is a very different film, one in which a typical action movie premise is used as the starting off point for a much more serious and timely story. The film, distributed by Netflix, stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence as two astronomers who, upon learning that earth has six months until an asteroid crash lands and annihilates humanity, make it their mission to warn the world about our impending doom. For a quick refresher of the plot, here’s the latest trailer:
Now, as people have discerned for months, Don’t Look Up is disguised as a disaster movie, but that disaster acts as a metaphor for climate change. There are also a few sprinkles of parallels with the pandemic. But this story is mainly about two things, as the film argues: 1. climate change will be our demise and 2. But, unfortunately, no one is taking that seriously.
As we can see in the trailer, politicians, the media, and the general public all brush off the claims of our protagonists. In an era where sincerity has been cut at its knees, it is irreverence, sarcasm, cynicism, and never passing up the chance to make a joke that reigns supreme. McKay is arguing, as the title suggests, that our refusal to look reality in the face will accelerate our doom.
However, there has been some pushback to the film. Many critics have argued the movie is too blunt and ham-fisted in its execution of satire. People appreciate subtlety because they don’t want to be preached to, but they also want to feel smart for being able to recognize a message that other viewers may not. Then there’s the political elephant in the room (no pun intended) that makes climate change such a hot-button issue. There are many people, mostly well off, that believe it is in their “best interest” to silence the fight against climate change. This very idea was at the center of Steven Soderbergh’s No Sudden Move, released earlier in 2021. Then there are those that just don’t believe in the evidence, maintaining that climate change is just a myth.
Is this potential bias coloring the polarizing reaction the film has received? It seems as if many critics either hate or adore this film, and audiences may have the same reaction. Adam McKay’s work, which ranges from Anchorman to The Big Short, is always interesting if nothing else. And with a cast that includes DiCaprio, Lawrence, Cate Blanchett, Timothée Chalamet, Tyler Perry, Jonah Hill, and some lady you may have heard of named Meryl Streep, the film is almost certain to be well-acted even if the script doesn’t work. Even Ariana Grande shows up for additional star power.
Netflix, for better or worse, is an expert at producing titles that permeate the zeitgeist, and Don’t Look Up is a potential powder keg that could set ablaze film Twitter while igniting the inevitable think pieces. But will it be a good film and one worthy of Oscar consideration? By the time you’re reading this, you may already know that Don’t Look Up will crash land on Netflix on December 24th.
Merry Christmas, I guess…